2012 MLB Spring Training: Arizona Diamondbacks Season Preview

Matt TruebloodSenior Analyst IFebruary 27, 2012

2012 MLB Spring Training: Arizona Diamondbacks Season Preview

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    Gerardo Parra is not headed for the Washington Nationals, not anywhere else. He and the Arizona Diamondbacks are a perfect fit for one another, and though the team seems not to fully appreciate his abilities, a short-lived rumor that Parra might be traded elicited a quick denial from GM Kevin Towers and the Arizona front office. 

    That Parra will be around appears sure, but how he will find playing time after the peculiar December arrival of free agent Jason Kubel heads a long list of questions facing the 2011 NL West champions. Manager Kirk Gibson worked their roster masterfully last season en route to the playoffs, but has his hands full again as spring training 2012 begins. Read on for a full preview of the Diamondbacks' season to come.

    This is the first of 30 team previews in 30 days, leading up to the start of the 2012 MLB regular season. Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Matt Trueblood offers insight on all facets of each club, profiles their manager, raise key questions, identifies risers and fallers and lays out run matrices for each team based on his proprietary 2012 projections. Check back daily for the next team in the series, or follow Trueblood on Twitter:

The Lineup

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    How it Goes

    1. Stephen Drew: SS
    2. Aaron Hill: 2B
    3. Justin Upton: RF
    4. Miguel Montero: C
    5. Chris Young: CF
    6. Jason Kubel: LF
    7. Paul Goldschmidt: 1B
    8. Ryan Roberts: 3B

    What it Does

    Everyone in this lineup can hit, but none other than Justin Upton has any single exceptional offensive skill. No one has top-tier power, save Upton. No one has elite patience.

    Hill makes contact as often as any regular in the game, but might actually be better-served by putting bat to ball less often. He has not been able to translate his contact prowess into a solid average of late, and that's made him a non-asset on offense when he isn't hitting home runs.

    That extreme well-roundedness, the sort of flatness of this lineup that lacks a true and clear heart, was the great strength of the team last season. It also exposes the 2012 team to more risk, though. Roberts had a career year in 2011, but repeating it will be tricky. The key to this group's success is the health of Stephen Drew.

    What it Could Do Better

    Kubel has no experience at first base, but it isn't like it's hard. He should platoon with Goldschmidt at first, taking pressure off the strikeout-prone rookie, and Parra should start every day.

The Rotation

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    Who They Are

    1. Daniel Hudson
    2. Ian Kennedy
    3. Trevor Cahill
    4. Joe Saunders
    5. Josh Collmenter

    How They Stack Up

    Last season, the lack of pitching depth threatened the Diamondbacks' run at the playoffs from the first week onward. Armando Galarraga and Zach Duke each stunk so badly that eventually, there was no dodging the issue, and the pair lost their gigs.

    Into the void stepped Josh Collmenter, an unlikely hero whose success was due mostly to a wildly overhand delivery few batters could track well, and Joe Saunders, who pitched out of his mind to a 3.69 ERA. 

    Towers clearly thinks he thoroughly addressed the issue this winter by trading for Trevor Cahill, but to get him, he gave up MLB-ready Jarrod Parker. Cahill thrived in Oakland, a roomy ballpark occupied by a consistently excellent defensive club. He might find life in the hitter-friendly desert of Arizona less amenable.

    Even if Cahill succeeds. though, Kennedy and Hudson (who anchored last year's rotation) are due for a step back. Hudson and Kennedy combined for 8.1 WAR last year; I have them projected for 6.4 in 2012, as Hudson (2.9, up from 2.6) is unable to balance out his co-ace's regression (Kennedy tumbles from 5.5 to 3.5).

    That's only a projection, but it illustrates an overarching concept for these 2012 Snakes: Regression could bite at any time. The mid-season arrival of prospect Trevor Bauer could change their outlook a lot, and for the better.

The Bullpen

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    Who Comes In

    1. J.J. Putz
    2. David Hernandez
    3. Takashi Saito
    4. Brad Ziegler
    5. Craig Breslow
    6. Joe Paterson
    7. Bryan Shaw

    What Comes of It

    Putz and Hernandez were great in 2011, and should be so again. Their problem might be health; they're projected for barely 120 innings between them this year.

    Oakland imports pepper this pitching staff, and Ziegler and Breslow give them badly needed depth. The leftovers in this group are a train wreck, and Towers will certainly look to deal for a relief arm around the deadline if Arizona sticks in the hunt.

The Bench

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    Who They Are

    1. Gerardo Parra
    2. Willie Bloomquist
    3. Henry Blanco
    4. Lyle Overbay
    5. John McDonald

    How They Roll

    Positionally, Arizona has great depth. Parra should be in the everyday lineup, but is as good a fourth outfielder as any in baseball if that's where he ends up. Kirk Gibson said he wants Parra to win playing time in center field, which shows that Gibson either undervalues Young or Parra, but still, the talent off the bench is good to have.

    It'd be nice to have more elsewhere on this unit. Overbay is the rare backup first baseman in MLB today. and there's good reason those are rare. They aren't much use. Blanco and McDonald were once perfect role players, but each is well past his prime.

The Leader

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    He needs to manage this roster perfectly to push Arizona back into the playoffs. He did so last year, but it got trickier this winter. Gibson will need to ensure the team defense does not suffer too much when Gerardo Parra sits, manage expectations and opportunities for Goldschmidt and know when to pull the plug on Collmenter at the expense of Trevor Bauer or Tyler Skaggs. His open-mindedness over the course of last season was refreshing from a famous player-turned-manager.

Top 5 Others

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    Who's Waiting

    1. Trevor Bauer
    2. Wade Miley
    3. Geoff Blum
    4. Tyler Skaggs
    5. Pat Corbin

    What They're Waiting for

    Bauer should be ready to revitalize, or just catalyze, the rotation by midseason. He's a very polished, rubber-armed college arm. Miley and Corbin are more along the lines of fill-ins, while grizzled vet Blum is good Ryan Roberts insurance. Skaggs is the wild card, a lefty with game-changing potential but who is unlikely to reach the parent club for a meaningful stretch of this year.

Three Up

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    Who's on the Rise

    1. Stephen Drew
    2. Daniel Hudson
    3. Ryan Roberts

    And Why

    Stephen Drew is not special offensively, so he often gets overlooked. Buster Posey's season-ending home-plate collision in May drew national attention; Drew's in July drew virtually none. He's a very valuable cog, though. He plays above-average defense at shortstop, is a decent on-base guy and is capable of 35 doubles and 10-15 triples if he stays healthy. That would be a boon for the whole team.

    Hudson is young, had peripherals even better than his solid raw numbers in 2011 and might just be the true ace of this staff. His long arm action evokes some concern as to whether he can stay healthy, but while he's on the mound, he is very good.

    Roberts is an enigma. He should have gotten a larger opportunity in 2009 and 2010, but never seized anything. He broke out to the good in 2011, but as much as that may seem like an unsustainable career year, his basic skill indices support his numbers.

Three Down

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    Who's Going the Wrong Way

    1. Justin Upton
    2. Ian Kennedy
    3. Trevor Cahill

    And Why

    For Upton, regression is a matter of course. He's superbly talented and was better in 2011 than his numbers suggest (thanks to a September slide during which he hit .167/.241/.250). Players do not age in a universal, linear fashion, though, and this year will be Upton's turn to scuffle a bit as he irons out his balance of contact and plate discipline. 

    Kennedy and Cahill are both in the same boat, having out-pitched their peripheral indicators the past two seasons. Kennedy, in particular, got lucky in 2011, with only 7.7 percent of his fly balls leaving Chase Field and with opposing batters hitting just .270 on balls in play.

    Arguably, these three are the Diamondbacks' best players, even with some 2012 regression. Saying they will step backward is not the same as saying they will be bad.

Five Questions

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    1. Is Paul Goldschmidt for real? Goldschmidt had a terrific 2011. He cranked 30 home runs at Double-A with a .435 OBP, then launched eight more homers in fewer than 180 plate appearances with the parent club down the stretch. He has power and isn't a liability at first base.

      On the other hand, he struck out in nearly 30 percent of his times at bat after ascending to the big leagues. He also fanned one out of every five times he took the plate in the minors, so contact is a problem. As a first baseman, he has little value if he doesn't absolutely mash.
    2. Whither Gerardo Parra? An elite defensive left fielder with the potential to succeed in center, Parra is a very well-rounded player. He should find plenty of playing time, but if it comes at the expense of Chris Young (or as a replacement for Justin Upton), then it doesn't help the team as much as if they simply give Parra the primary left-field job.
    3. Can the bullpen sustain its excellence? A group that did yeomen's work in 2011 got deeper this winter, with the additions of Craig Breslow and Takashi Saito. Nonetheless, the success or failure of this unit depends on J.J. Putz and David Hernandez repeating their awesome 2011 showings. For each, staying healthy is also a relevant concern.
    4. How soon will Trevor Bauer arrive? It could be as soon as late May or early June, but by the trade deadline, Trevor Bauer should be in the Arizona rotation. If he isn't, something is wrong, and every start that goes to Josh Collmenter after the All-Star break should be viewed as disappointing, if not an outright failure.
    5. How much can Aaron Hill provide? With Hill, there are always two questions. He must stay healthy, which is no guarantee, but even if he does, he must also prove he can find the right balance between swinging for the fences (which led to a .205 average in 2010) and sacrificing good contact for contact, period (which resulted in a measly .110 ISO last year). He is a good fielder, at least and can run a bit, so as long as he is on the field, he will provide some value.

Cumulative Runs and Final Thoughts

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    Runs Above Average:

    Unit RAA
    Lineup 103.29
    Bench -13.47
    Rotation 7.2
    Bullpen 15.1

    TOTAL: 112.12

    Can Arizona repeat as champs of the NL West? Ask me in a month. What's clear, though, is that the rotation and bench need reinforcement and that the lineup's depth makes it one of the league's strongest. If one player is key to this team's outlook, it's Trevor Bauer.